Most people have no idea why New Jersey is known as the “Garden State.” Typically, when people think of New Jersey they automatically think of it as an extension of New York City. For those of us of a certain age, the joke by Joe Piscopo and SNL comes to mind. “What exit”? Because New Jersey is thought of as a series of on and off-ramps. While this quip may apply to Northern New Jersey, Southern New Jersey is a different story, so much so, that New Yorkers and Philadelphians will argue that North and South Jersey should be two different states.
But New Jersey is more than just a suburb of New York City and Philadelphia. Once you get away from the two big cities, things begin to get more rural. Northern New Jersey has some beautiful mountains and some stunning horse farms. But southern NJ, the lesser-known New Jersey produces the bounty of the “Garden State.”
Who coined New Jersey The "Garden State"
Typically, Abraham Browning, New Jersey’s Attorney General from 1845 to 1850 is credited with giving the State the nickname the Garden State. It’s been documented that Browning coined the nickname while speaking at the Philadelphia Centennial exhibition on New Jersey Day (August 24, 1876).
While not the exact quote, Browning likened the state to an immense barrel, overflowing with good things to eat and open at both ends, with Philadelphians grabbing from one end and New Yorkers from the other. The nickname stuck. However, Browning was not the only person to make this comparison. Benjamin Franklin is credited with a similar comparison. This, of course, would have occurred much earlier in New Jersey’s history.
Today the slogan is proudly displayed on the state’s license plate.
Known for it's Farm Stands
Once you get off the major toll road in southern NJ, roadside farm stands dot the route. When traveling to New Jersey’s southern beaches, a stop at one of these is almost mandatory. If you’ve never been to the area you may wonder what makes them so special.
First, because much of the fruits and vegetables are farmed in New Jersey, the offerings are likely harvested the same day. You will never find fresher produce. And you certainly won’t find anything like it at your local grocery store.
While corn and tomatoes are probably the biggest sellers at these south Jersey roadside produce stands, you will find a variety of fruits and vegetables including, watermelon, peaches, zucchini, green beans and more!!
When shopping, look for the “Jersey Fresh” label and take pride in knowing you are supporting a local farmer.
Jersey Fresh Corn and Tomatoes
New Jersey produces some of the best tomatoes imaginable. People say the soil conditions (sandy) and hot summers are perfect for succulent tomatoes. I just know that they are huge, red from the outside to their center and juicy as hell. They are so good you will want to sit down with a plate of sliced, freshly ripened New Jersey tomatoes and eat them just the way they are. If you must add something, a touch of salt and/or some olive oil is all you need.
Corn is another staple of these roadside farm stands. In July and August, you can pick up corn that was likely harvested that same morning. There is nothing like the juicy tenderness of fresh-picked sweet Silver Queen corn. Boiled or roasted, it is just delicious!! Spread a bit of butter on it and add a dash of salt and pepper. You have a favorite summer treat.
Perhaps the most widely distributed New Jersey produce is the blueberry. Hammonton, situated in the Pine Barrens (think the Jersey Devil) of Atlantic County, has 7600 acres of blueberry farms. These farms produce 49-million pounds of blueberries annually. Next time you are enjoying blueberries during the summer months, take a look at the packaging. There’s a good chance you will find they were grown in Hammonton.
Diners, for which NJ is also known, serve up some of the most delicious blueberry pie imaginable during the growing season. And, it may surprise you but blueberry wine is a thing around these parts.
And, South Jersey Wineries Too!
And while we are on the subject of wine, NJ boasts 51 wineries throughout the state. Many of them are in Southern NJ but they can be found in the northern region as well.
If you are looking to do a wine outing, try the Two Bridges Wine Trail. The trail is situated between the Delaware Memorial and Commodore Barry Bridges which connect Philadelphia with NJ. There are nine local wineries on the route.
More than 100 U-pick Farms and Orchards Throughout the State
Head out to one of over 150 U-pick farms and orchards in New Jersey. Pick-your-own farm adventures provide quality family time and learning opportunities for kids. Pick your own fruit and vegetable farms are a fantastic way to get kids in touch with where their food originates. New Jersey U-pick farms and orchards offer everything from apples to zucchini.
Sod Farms are a Thing Here
When you think about farming you probably don’t think of grass as a farmed item. However, you can find many sod “farms” in Southern New Jersey. Along the back roads, it is fairly common to see wide open fields of well-manicured grass dotted by dirt patches. These are sod farms and those patches are where the grass has been “harvested.” (I use quotes there because I’m not sure if taking the roots and all is technically a harvest.)
Now, next time you are at a cocktail party where someone jokes that New Jersey is a suburb of New York City or if you’re riding behind a car with a NJ plate, ask your companion “do you know why they call New Jersey the “Garden State”? You will likely get a puzzled look. Then wow them with your new-found knowledge of the Garden State.